URUMQI, July 31 (Xinhua) -- To reach Arizkul Kurban's vegetable store on the Pamir Plateau, cucumbers, coming from submontane cities, have to be transported on long journeys over wandering and bumpy mountain roads, while battling extreme weather and climbing over snow-capped mountains.
Herdsman Arizkul Kurban runs a small vegetable store in Bulungkol Township of Akto County in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Cucumbers have become the most popular green vegetable in his store.
Twenty years ago, when Arizkul Kurban was 30 years old, he left his hometown on the Pamir Plateau and saw a cucumber for the first time. Faced with its unusual appearance, he struggled to believe that such a thing was even edible.
Reaching out from the center of the government of Bulungkol Township, a radius of 80 km covers a living area for 1,900 herdsmen, cattle and sheep in various river valleys. At an elevation of 3,400 meters and blanketed with barren land, the area is unsuitable for crops or vegetables to grow. Herdsmen here have made a living by grazing for generations.
Arizkul Kurban's store not only offers him a way of making a living but has also enabled him to witness the changes in local people's lives over the years.
"Eating mutton and wearing sheepskin clothes, we herdsmen used to lead a tough nomadic life without any fixed residence, no modern possessions like televisions or mobile phones, and even no green vegetables," said Arizkul Kurban.
"In the past, we had long lived in poverty and could only afford carrots, potatoes, onions and other vegetables which were cheap, shelf-stable and resistant to bumps during transportation," he said.
More convenient transportation from outside to the mountainous town has paved the way for Arizkul Kurban to open the store.
It used to take at least a week to ride up the mountain on a horse, according to Arizkul Kurban. Even when a gravel road was later built, it was still difficult to transport the fragile cucumbers to the town. "Now, after restoration and expansion, the uphill highway is a perfect road for me," said Arizkul Kurban.
Apart from the improved transport situation, the township government also helped Arizkul Kurban start his business running the vegetable store.
The government built a number of storefronts in 2018 and offered them to low-income families for free as a means of starting their own businesses and earning a living.
Villagers mainly used the storefronts to run restaurants, daily-necessity stores, barbershops and small supermarkets.
"The net profit of my family-run shop over 10 months totaled 20,000 yuan (around 2,100 U.S. dollars)," said Toyqebek Turdi, owner of a restaurant.
Moreover, all herdsmen of Bulungkol Township have successively moved into the anti-seismic houses built by the local government since 2012.
The government also helped the villagers develop tourism, find jobs in other places and improve livestock breeds so as to increase their incomes.
"Their demand for higher living quality has increased along with the rising incomes. Villagers here eat lots of mutton. Now, they buy cucumbers to make salad and have more balanced meals with appropriate portions of vegetables and meat," said Arizkul Kurban.
"Enjoying free housing, free education, and nearly 90 percent medical reimbursement, we are able to spend more money on food. At present, green vegetables are becoming increasingly popular," said Melike Ahmat, a local resident of Bulungkol.
"Due to our limited ability to maintain freshness, leafy green vegetables rarely appeared on our tables," said Hou Zhenqiang, deputy head of Bulungkol Township.
"Considering the altitude and cold weather on the plateau, local government has already grown broad-leaved green vegetables in experimental fields in greenhouses. Soon, residents on the Pamir Plateau will be able to buy more green vegetables with excellent quality and at reasonable prices," Hou said.
Arizkul Kurban has shaken off poverty after running the vegetable store for a year. Now, he drives down the mountain every four days to purchase fresh vegetables. Besides cucumbers, he has also included more varieties, such as green beans and squash, on his shopping list.